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The reality behind the rides

Pursuing sports scholarships may not be the wisest course for kids

Posted: August 9, 2009 9:56 p.m.
Updated: August 10, 2009 4:55 a.m.
According to the NCAA, more than 126,000 student-athletes receive either a partial or full scholarship to an NCAA Division I or II program.

To put it in a better perspective, a 2008 Washington Post article with the headline “Don’t bank on a sports scholarship,” reported “only one or two of every 100 kids who play a sport in high school receive scholarship money to continue playing in college.”

Saugus High football coach Jason Bornn outlines the difficulty of earning an athletic scholarship to parents and his players.

“If parents would invest as much money in SAT prep courses or study classes as they did in athletic training, they have a higher possibility of getting an academic scholarship than an athletic scholarship,” Bornn said. “A lot of parents think full athletic scholarship or bust. But there are more kids on college campuses getting academic scholarships than athletic scholarships.”

Parents spend gobs of money to support their children’s athletic endeavors in hopes that it will pay off when it comes time for them to go to college.

The reality is, it rarely pans out.

The NCAA provides very telling statistics that outline that statement.

Just 3 percent of high school boys basketball players compete in college. Five other sports are listed and the numbers are as follows: women’s basketball (3.3 percent), football (5.7 percent), baseball (6.1 percent), men’s ice hockey (11 percent) and men’s soccer (5.5 percent).

Sports have changed so much over the past decade that simply playing for your high school team won’t get you very far in terms of earning an athletic scholarship.

When asked to give a percentage on how important high school softball is in terms of getting an athletic scholarship, Valencia softball head coach Donna Lee said five percent.

“It’s really hard for (college recruiters) to come to a high school game because it’s during their season,” Lee said.

Travel ball/club teams, showcases and combines have become the place to make a name for yourself.

Lee suggests softball players get on a travel ball team by sixth grade because colleges start to take notice of girls at that age.

There are ratings now for the best elementary school and junior high athletes in the country in a given sport.

Combines in football are testing kids for speed, agility and strength.

They are also a chance for recruiters to see if an athlete passes the eye test, as in if they have the body for college football.

Play on the field doesn’t always translate to a scholarship, either.

Former Valencia High defensive back Marlon Pollard verbally committed to UCLA between his sophomore and junior years. This was without even making an All-Foothill League first or second team or honorable mention.

Yet because of combine success, he was rated by numerous recruiting agencies as one of the top defensive backs in the country.
Pollard will be a true freshman at UCLA this season after graduating from Cajon High.

Showcases are popular in baseball because it gives colleges an opportunity have the kids come to them.

But there are many showcases that are not affiliated with colleges.

“Lots of parents are spending money on bogus showcase events and recruiting services,” said Cal State Northridge head baseball coach Steve Rousey. “If a recruiting service sends me info on a kid that says he can’t run, can’t hit, I wad it up and throw it in the trash.”

Yet Rousey encourages kids to visit college-sponsored showcases.

During those showcases, kids are showing off their arm, running and maybe getting 10 at-bats.

It doesn’t seem like much of a chance to prove oneself, but Rousey said 13 players on last season’s CSUN roster participated in the school’s showcase.

For many sports, it’s the national events that get kids noticed. Those events are usually reserved for the elite players.

Soccer players, like softball players, rely almost entirely on the club circuit as a means to getting a scholarship.

“Scholarships from soccer primarily come from club soccer,” said Valencia High boys soccer coach Tony Scalercio, who is also a longtime club soccer coach. “A coach may come out and watch a kid (in high school) late in the process, but coaches would much rather see them perform at the club level because they are playing at a higher level against higher competition.”

For non-blue-chippers, Scalercio advises those soccer players to contact colleges and let them know who they are.

He adds that the most important thing a student-athlete needs to consider when pursuing an athletic scholarship is to have their academics in order.

This rings true in baseball, said Hart High head coach Jim Ozella, whose program had eight players sign with a college and another go professional in 2008.

“There are 11.7 scholarships per year (on an NCAA Division I baseball program),” Ozella said. “On a 30-man roster you may have 10 guys not getting any money at all. … If you’re an outstanding student, it provides you an opportunity.”

A quality student with baseball talent can walk onto a baseball team, if he makes it. Improved play can net scholarship money as the years go on.

The proving ground for many of these sports comes during an athlete’s freshman or sophomore years.

The old thought process was that an athlete earns their scholarship during their junior year.

It may be true for some sports, such as football or basketball, but colleges are taking notice of many athletes in their early years in high school.

That has caused many parents to invest very early in an athlete’s career.

Statistics show that it doesn’t usually work out.

But it doesn’t stop people from trying.


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